AUGUST 20, 2019
About three and half million people in Somalia have been affected by conflict and famine for the last decades. This has also forced over one million people to escape their homes to neighboring countries while several thousand others were displaced internally. In an effort to revive peace in the country, various efforts have been made by organizing several reconciliation conferences inside and outside of the country. Within these conferences, the question of land, minority rights and the place of women have taken a central role.
The question of land, minority rights and women has also been key agenda in the successive governments of Somalia as well as foreign and local NGOs. Despite these efforts, little has been achieved to this end. Even in regions and territories that have successfully overcome conflict and continue to enjoy relative peace. A good example is the Jubaland state of Somalia and in particular its capital Kismayu which enjoys valuable peace and stability. However, the question of land continues to undermine the gains that have been made with fears that land and insufficient attention to the rights of the minorities could cause another serious round of conflict. But the challenges in management of natural resources such as land and water do not end in Kismayu. These are problems affecting various regions across the country and can be seen as an extension of the existing clan rivalry. About 45 to 55% of Somalia’s land area is classified as permanent pasture, while 20% is reserved for forest. Roughly 13% is considered to be suitable for cultivation.
As relative calm and peace is being restored in various parts of the country, several Somalis are returning from the diaspora with the hope of rebuilding the country and taking advantage of the existing economic opportunities. In turn, this has led to an upsurge of land prices as demand continue to increase significantly. Such demands have also resulted into more land disputes given the confusion that a three -decade conflict may have on the ownership of various resources. In addition, manipulation of documents and records to change the identity of the person the land is belonging to has long been recognized as a compelling force behind violent conflict in Somalia. Local courts continue to receive numerous cases which seem to increase over the years as other reports of death threats; intimidation and forgery have been reported to the police. Even though the reports to formal institutions such as courts and the police are high, there are people who still depend on traditional justice system instead of engaging formal or secular justice system; they perceive secular system as hubs of injustice or ineffectiveness. In that regard, local people have strong confidence to rely on basic traditional governance system.
The land conflict has been concerned with both urban and rural areas;
Due to weak law enforcement following the collapse of key state institutions in the early 1990s, wide disparities have been experienced between the traditional land tenure systems and the legal/statutory law. This has for many years enabled the most powerful and exacerbating individuals, groups and clan divisions to engage in illicit appropriation on the part of those. As a consequence of the prolonged absence of a clear central government authority and the subsequent erosion of legal systems, land and property have been subject to illegal occupation and land grabbing; this remains the main source of violent conflict.
In order to address this decades-long problem, several measures need to be taken. One, is the review of the constitution in order to establish three vital institutions. The first institutions that need to be established is an Independent boundaries commission that will be tasked with the proper delimitation of boundaries along administrative lines (NB: This commission has existed but not functional). Secondly, an independent National Land Commission should be established to oversee distinction of public, private and communal land. It will also be tasked with reviewing land ownership, updating the national land records and modernization of land ownership title deeds. The third institution is a court within the judiciary to deal with land disputes. Such a court will need to be spread across major cities and towns so as to deal closer to the people. For justice to be done and social trust be given on the process, these institutions must remain exclusive and independent from political and social interference. An Ad Hoc Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission can address some of the most touching issues of historical land grievances and seek consensus between the parties.
Having established these legal structures, other important actors need to be involved. For example, NGOs and local civil society groups can play different roles ranging from civic education, to advocating for the rights of weaker members of the societies or providing pro bono legal services to those who deserve. This way it will be ensured that every member of the society has an equal share in this national process. Solving the land issue is a critical step towards social reconciliation and peacebuilding. In addition, the whole process of land reforms must ensure justice for women and minority groups are treated fairly and equally.